Scammers hijack Instagram accounts in Southern New England

Hackers have been hijacking Instagram accounts at an alarming rate in recent weeks. (WJAR)

Instagram is all about sharing special moments.

"(At) 6:45 in the morning, I went to go post first day of school pictures with my daughter," said Jess Stratton, of Charlestown.

But Stratton quickly learned you can't post from a non-existent account.

"Instagram said, 'There is no account associated with you,'" Stratton said.

Stratton was panicked and confused. She hadn't deleted her Instagram account, so where did it go?

"I couldn't find it. It was like it was gone," said Stratton. "It didn't even exist anymore."

Desperate to find her account, Stratton started searching Instagram for some of her recent hashtags. She eventually found an account with all of her pictures and all of her followers, but the account had a strange username and profile picture.

"It was like somebody had completely taken over my account," said Stratton.

Another NBC 10 News viewer, Mallorie from North Kingstown, said the same thing recently happened to her account.

Even NBC 10's executive producer had her Instagram account hijacked.

"You go on there and there are pictures of cartoon characters or something, but you can't access your own account. It has been taken over," said Steve Weisman, a professor at Bentley University and author of scamicide.com.

Weisman said hackers have been hijacking Instagram accounts at an alarming rate in recent weeks.

He said it's likely they're getting in with passwords that were exposed in a different hack.

The hackers then change the user's contact email, username and password to take control.

Weisman said the majority of hackers appear to be using Russian email addresses. Right now, it's not clear what they're after.

"We have no idea why because this is something that is not gathering a lot of sensitive materials," said Weisman.

Instagram wouldn't answer NBC 10's repeated questions about who's behind the hacks or what those hackers are after.

But Instagram has recently announced there is a fix.

"There is an email that Instagram will send you when somebody tries to change your email address or your password or your username on Instagram, and if you didn't make those changes you can click on a link to revert," said Stratton.

That's how she got back into her account and quickly set up two-factor authentication.

Stratton said one hack was scary enough.

"They could have seen everything, all of my messages, and if they have my password to get into Instagram, what other passwords do they have?" said Stratton.

Weisman said every user should set up two-factor authentication, which means you'll get a text or call from Instagram before any changes are allowed. You can set up two-factor authentication under Settings on Instagram.

You can also set up two factor authentication on most other social media sites.

If your Instagram account was recently compromised, you should also choose a new contact email and a new password. Don't use that compromised password on any other sites.

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